Thursday, June 4, 2009

Silence is broken, Family finally gets the story of a hero

Silence is broken, Family finally gets the story of a hero



Silence is broken, Family finally gets the story of a hero

They called him Lucky, a nickname earned only after events have proven it true.

And then fate takes another turn.

Richard Arthur Browne was a teenager when he hitchhiked from Worcester to Montreal, and possibly lied about his age to join the Royal Canadian Air Force on Aug. 11, 1941. He was a scrappy, redheaded newspaper delivery boy who went to Commerce High School, worked in a dairy and lived with his parents at 604 Park Ave.

The United States hadn’t yet entered World War II and Mr. Browne was already training for the battlefront mission that would take him overseas in 1943 as a radioman and gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber. Accounts written in The Evening Gazette while he was home on leave in 1945 described in detail some of Mr. Browne’s 87 missions overseas as a wartime flying officer with the loss of only one crew member.

That’s why he was nicknamed Lucky. That, and even when Mr. Browne was wounded, sitting in the belly of the plane with shrapnel in his hip and knee, he was saved from the direct hit of a shell by the radio in his lap, escaping death yet again.

Mr. Browne married a Canadian, Catherine Dolores Kitchen, and brought her to live in Worcester with his family. Babies followed.

In 1948, Mr. Browne enlisted in the U.S. Army. As another conflict was getting under way, he was promoted to sergeant and by Christmas 1950 was in Korea.

On March 7, 1951, Lucky Browne was killed in action, the 271st casualty of the “Forgotten War.” He was 28 and one of the 62,423 service men and women, more than 191 from Central Massachusetts, who would perish in Korea or remain missing in action.

On the day Sgt. Browne died, he wrote a letter telling his wife he hoped to return soon to see his infant son, Timothy Edward, born after he had left for the war. Also at home with their mother were daughters Patricia Ann, 4, and Mary-Ellen, 2.

Mary-Ellen Canzano, now 60 and living in Valparaiso, Ind., with her husband, Gerald, since 1975, knew little of her father but his name, address and the year he was killed. “I have pictures of him, and I know what he looked like, but I don’t remember seeing him,” she said.

Brought up in a convent because her family couldn’t afford to care for nine children, Mrs. Canzano’s mother was a shy, quiet woman who rarely talked about her husband and did not remarry, she said. Nor did Mr. Browne’s parents talk about him. “I don’t know if it was too painful or what the problem was,” said Mrs. Canzano.

After her husband’s death, Mrs. Browne was given the first apartment at Curtis Apartments in Great Brook Valley in Worcester. Later, the family moved, sibling by sibling, to Indiana, where Mrs. Browne died in 1999. Around that time, bits and pieces of her memories began to be spoken.

“When she knew she was sick, she talked about him a little bit — about how they met, when they got engaged,” said Mrs. Canzano, who graduated from Burncoat Senior High School in Worcester. “She told me that they didn’t have a funeral until May, when his remains were shipped home. ‘How did you know it was him?’ I asked her. ‘I really don’t,’ she said. She was 28 and left with three young children.”

Earlier this year, Mrs. Canzano, a bartender at and member of the of the American Legion Post 170 in Chesterton, Ind., decided to join the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. She was told membership required documentation of her father’s wartime status. So she began her search.

A friend suggested she write to retired Col. Daniel K. Cedusky of Champaign, Ill., a National Guard veteran who helps veterans with claims and benefits and families tracking down military records. Col. Cedusky said her request was unusual. “I seldom get something from someone writing about someone they never knew.”

Col. Cedusky, who later contacted the Telegram & Gazette, found out where Mr. Browne was buried (in Farmingdale, N.Y., at Long Island National Cemetery under a headstone with the incorrect spelling — Brown — of his last name), discovered that the storied 17th Infantry Regiment with which Sgt. Browne served in Korea had been the subject of a documentary movie and that the World War II service of the man his children didn’t know was so extensive he had been the subject of lengthy stories in the newspaper.

“He wasn’t just somebody killed in action,” said Col. Cedusky. “He was a hero.”

Mrs. Canzano shared what Col. Cedusky found with her family and siblings. Patricia Ann is now 62, and Timothy Edward, 58.

“Every time I read about it, it makes me cry,” said Mrs. Canzano. “I wish someone had talked to me about him. It makes me sad. It makes me proud.”

That little was said about Mr. Browne is not surprising, said Col. Cedusky. “Korea was the Forgotten War. It was never declared a war. People were busy rebuilding their communities from World War II, the big boom time after the war, and it was quickly forgotten. They came home and got jobs. They weren’t sent as a unit; it was three guys here and there. It was everyone’s individual war, not a community war.”

Sometimes called a “police action,” sandwiched between World War II and Vietnam and lasting from 1950 to 1953, Korea was different in other respects, as well.

Kenneth B. Swift of Shrewsbury, a Marine sergeant who served 13 months in Korea and is past vice chairman of the Korean War Memorial Committee in Worcester, remembers no neighborhood efforts to help soldiers and their families, no big military funerals, no support network for returning service men and women.

And unlike multiple years of deployment in World War II, Korean War veterans served 12 to 14 months, an absence that to the rest of the community seemed brief and perhaps easily overlooked, said Francis R. Carroll of Worcester, a U.S. Navy Korean War veteran who guided the effort to raise funds for and build Worcester’s Korean War Memorial and is past chairman of the committee. “You went away, came back and people said, ‘Where you been?’ ”

“We did not get the recognition as victors. It was a different attitude. It wasn’t as if we really went away and were involved in something,” said Mr. Swift.

In Worcester, as elsewhere, life went on, said Mr. Carroll. People returned to school or work.

Yet Mr. Browne “was remarkable and his story is unique,” said Mr. Carroll. “To join the Canadian Air Force, fly all those missions and live through it — this family, their son, going back into the Army” may have been a decision difficult for them to accept and live with, he suggested.

In her own scrappiness, pale skin, freckles and red hair, Mrs. Canzano said she sees her father, sees him, too, in the same look her sister, brother, son and grandson have. She figures that had her dad lived, the family would have traipsed about after him, post to post, and she would have been an Army brat.

She almost was, without him, displeasing her worried mother by marrying an Air Force man, even as her sister married a Marine.

“Mother was not happy. She wanted us to wait until they got out — to make sure they came home,” said Mrs. Canzano.

Knowing the talk that can well up on the drinkers’ side of any bar, Mrs. Canzano thought twice about applying for her job at the American Legion. She wasn’t sure she could stand hearing veterans’ stories she knew would be heartbreaking. But they don’t really talk about it, she said. Only the crazy stuff, “the funny stories.”

“I’ve been a bartender for 34 years. You don’t talk; you listen. I’m there for them; they are not there for me. They have no clue.”

Contact Andi Esposito by e-mail at

Sphere: Related Content